Many of us played memory games as children, usually some form of Pelmanism where players try to remember the location of face down cards. Usually, this 'mechanic' is tired of by the tweens and then, when you're older, elicits a moan, and the phrase 'my memory isn't what it used to be' gets trotted out. Well, you age-addled groan-up parents out there, now is the time to revisit Pelmanism in an interesting co-operative variation with a delightful theme to boot.
Farm Rescue, from Brain Games, sees 1-5 players work together to help a portly farmer save his 25 farmyard animals from the slavering jaws of an extremely cute wolf. The five types of animal come in five colours each and are randomly arranged face up on a loose 5x5 grid, with a racetrack framing the play area which shows the progress of the wolf to the farmyard and of the farmer to the wolf. As you can see, the game looks great on the table, especially the two pre-painted oversized miniatures of the farmer and wolf.
Each turn, a pair of custom six-sided dice are rolled, generating a combination that refers to a specific animal (eg: Purple Horse or Green Chicken) which the active player must either flip face down or, if it's already hidden, flip face up. Problem is, there may be many animals face down and it's your memory - or that of your more capable offspring - that must come to the rescue. Fail to find the correct animal and the wolf moves; find the right one and the farmer gets closer: if Fat Farmer Fred reaches the wolf (or, though unlikely, if all 25 animals are face down), the game is won. Otherwise it's power to the people-- sorry, chow time for Wolfie.
Farm Rescue nails the use of the Pelmanism mechanic: yes, you can 'game the system' by assigning players their own area of the farmyard to memorise, but that's all part of the co-operative point and is as great for team-building as the pass and roll of the dice is for teaching kids to take their turns nicely. Astute readers will have noticed that there are eleven combinations of dice left: these are reserved for wilds which, depending on the difficulty level you choose, let you nominate which animal or colour (or both) you seek this round.
That may be all there is to designer Harris Tsagas' game, but it's plenty: when a product is aimed at young kids, there's no need to complicate it. Back-to-back plays of this with my family were all great fun: sometimes we got lucky and the dice rolled the same combination in quick succession; other times, my wife and I were happy to roll face-up animals so we could let our son take the strain of actually remembering correctly. The normal game provided a fair challenge, too; while the easier variations usually ended with a cheered victory.
With art by Reinis Petersons, Farm Rescue is superbly presented in a bookshelf box, incorporating clear rules, a useful insert, and components that are up to the job of being kid-handled: the two painted figures are the clear stand-out. My only complaint is that it didn't come out five years ago, when it would have been a great addition to my son's nascent board game collection.
(Review by David Fox)